Ways to Get Stronger Than Everyone Else
The deadlift is a rock star. It’s famous for building total-body muscle and strength, and boosting power. It’s one of the best exercises for targeting the powerful muscles of your posterior chain, like your glutes, and hamstrings. And when done correctly, the deadlift teaches you how to properly hip hinge, which spares your spine from taking the brunt of the weight in many lower-body exercises.
So in my opinion, the only things a deadlift can’t do are fix bad hair days and stop the Polar Vortex.
That’s why I believe everyone should deadlift. From professional athletes to housewives to retirees, the exercise is a good fit for the majority of people that step into a gym. After all, most people deadlift on a daily basis anyway. Picking up a bag of salt? That’s a deadlift. Hoisting a bag of groceries off the floor? Deadlift. Basically, improving your deadlift makes you better in everything you do.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should just throw some weight on a bar, bend over, and pick it up. The deadlift requires some attention to detail. Use these tips to master the move and increase your gains.
1. Create tension.
During a deadlift, your hips and shoulders should move at the same time. However, I often see men’s hips come up too quickly when initiating the pull.
When this happens, it’s usually failure to create and maintain tension. Without tension, you can’t generate as much force, which decreases the amount of weight you can lift.
So how to you create tension?
Keeping your legs straight, push your butt back behind you until your hands touch the bar. Grab the bar with your left hand, and try to twist the bar in a counter-clockwise motion. This engages your lat, pulls your shoulder blade down, and lifts your chest, providing a ton of stability and tension. Repeat the same process with your right hand, trying to twist the bar clockwise this time. Once both hands are in place, pretend to crush oranges with your armpits. This ensures you’re creating enough tension though your upper body.
It’s important to maintain tension in your hamstrings, too. They are some of your body’s most powerful muscles, and key components of a successful deadlift. So keep your hips high, but not above your shoulders, and think about pushing yourself away from the floor the entire movement.
2. Perform more single reps with sub-maximal loads.
Most men assume “singles” or “one-rep lifts” refer to maximum effort lifts. However, performing singles at 70 to 75 percent of your one-rep max helps you hone in on technique and allows you to make sure every rep is perfect. Sub-maximal loads also train power and explosiveness, which are important for boosting bar speed and conquering weak spots during the exercise.
I’ve had great success with my clients when they add the following cycle to their workout routine. Perform the prescribed number of sets 1 time a week, resting 30 to 45 seconds between each set.
WEEK 1: Do 10 sets of 1 rep that’s 70 percent of your 1-rep max.
WEEK 2: Do 8 sets of 1 rep that’s 72.5 percent of your 1-rep max.
WEEK 3: Do 12 sets of 1 rep that’s 75 percent of your 1-rep max.
WEEK 4: Do 6 sets of 1 rep that’s 75 percent of your 1 -rep max.
You can also improve your conditioning with sub-maximal singles, too. Try this: Perform 1 rep that’s 70 to 75 percent of your 1-rep max every minute for 10 minutes straight.
3. Choose the right variation.
Not every deadlift is created equal. You must pick the variation that’s right for your body and your experience level. Here are three go-to variations that I use in my gym. Find the one that works best for you.
Even though this piece of equipment looks bizarre, I start beginners deadlifting with it. The trap bar provides less load on the spine because your center of gravity is inside the bar, and it makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine throughout the move. Plus, the elevated handles accommodate people with hip and ankle mobility issues—which includes almost every beginner—to properly perform a deadlift.
Men who are built to squat and bench—short arms and long torsos—should stick with this variation. Since your feet are wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes are pointed outward, you don’t have to work so hard to get low. It helps you build the mobility needed to perform a standard deadlift.
Sumo deadlifts are tough on your hips, though. Don’t include them in your workout for more than 3 to 4 weeks at a time.
Although it’s the most recognized, it’s also the most advanced variation. The reason: It causes more stress on the spine because your center of gravity is forward over the bar.
You also need incredible ankle, hip, and upper-back mobility to get in the proper start position. If you don’t, your form is compromised and you increase your risk of spinal injury. You may have to tweak the lift by elevating the bar on mats or reverting to rack pulls instead.
4. Finish with your hips.
Many men who complain of back pain are also the guys whose butts stick out J-Lo style at the end of a deadlift. They’re not properly engaging their hips and glutes, which means other muscles are doing all the work. And that’s a shame since your hips and your glutes are some of the most powerful muscles in your body. Think of how much more weight you could lift if you finish with your hips and glutes!
If you find yourself failing to properly finish a deadlift, thrust your hips into the bar at the top of the move. This will force you to squeeze your glutes and finish tall and strong. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the move.
5. Tuck your chin.
When it comes to safety, trainers preach keeping a neutral spine. But what about your neck? Watch someone deadlift, and you’ll notice he’s probably looking straight ahead. This forces his cervical spine into excessive extension, and is extremely dangerous.
Your neck is part of your spine, so, technically, the same rule we apply to the lower and upper spine should apply to the neck. Your entire spine should be in neutral position.
For an easy way to make sure your neck isn’t in extension, make a double chin. This helps keep your chin tucked and your neck in the proper alignment. Also, stay away from mirrors. Mirrors inevitably cause you to look at yourself. And when you do that, your next extends and compromises your spinal position.